Interfaith leaders join protest outside NRA meeting in Houston

HOUSTON (RNS) – Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the scorching Texas sun on Friday (May 27) to protest outside the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting, just days after 21 people were killed in a school shooting in Uvalde , in Texas, which reignited a national debate on gun rights.

Among the crowd of 500 activists, teachers, politicians and citizens outside the George R. Brown Conference Center were dozens of interfaith leaders who sought to add the voice of the faith community to the protest over the shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary and to condemn gun violence in general.

Speakers scheduled at the conference included former President Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz and other politicians, as well as NRA officials. On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would skip the conference in favor of Uvalde’s visit.

“Gun violence affects us all,” Megan Dosher Hansen, one of two Houstonians who organized the interfaith protest, told Religion News Service. “Too often, places of worship, especially those of non-majority religions…have been the target of mass shootings and other acts of violence. … The lives of everyone living in the United States can be touched by gun violence on a personal level.

The streets surrounding the area were closed and mounted police kept protesters and counter-protesters on opposite sides of Avenida de las Americas, which separates Discovery Green Park from the convention center. Both sides shouted insults, as interfaith clergy began marching down the blocked street between the park and the convention center, flanked by vociferous protesters on one side and guarded onlookers on the other.

Various clergy demonstrate at Discovery Green, a park across from the George R. Brown Conference Center where the National Rifle Association began holding its annual meeting, May 27, 2022, in Houston. RNS photo by Katherine Keenan

The scene heated up when interfaith community leader Teresa Kim Pecinovsky, crossing towards the convention center, was held up by a security guard. Pecinovsky, who is four months pregnant, was pushed back behind a barrier and later taken to Woman’s Hospital in Texas for safety.

“We were told we could cross individually,” said Lynn Hargrove, priest general of the New Covenant presbytery, who witnessed the altercation. “There was an opening, the security guard grabbed her, and she tried to run away, then he grabbed her harder and ended up pushing her back across the line.”

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña held a press conference Thursday in part to warn those planning to attend the protest against the clashes. “It’s the most diverse city in the country. Certainly, we can come together in a crowd, exercise our First Amendment rights, and do so with respect for each other’s views,” he said.

After the incident, the interfaith community completed their march and gathered under a shade tree for speeches by representatives of the Christian, Muslim and Buddhist communities.

Reverend Ashleigh Dellagiacoma, a Lutheran pastor from Houston, demonstrates in front of the National Rifle Association annual meeting held at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Friday, May 27, 2022, in Houston.  RNS photo by Katherine Keenan

The Reverend Ashley Dellagiacoma, Houston Lutheran pastor, demonstrates in front of the National Rifle Association annual meeting held at the George R. Brown Convention Center, May 27, 2022, in Houston. RNS photo by Katherine Keenan

After solemnly reciting the names of the victims killed at Uvalde, the Reverend Raphael Villareal Falquez, chaplain of the hospice, said a prayer in Spanish. Behind him, Reverend Ashley Dellagiacoma of Kindred Lutheran Church stood defiantly holding a sign reading ‘Peace be on earth and begin today’.

“We’re all looking for a way to address our grief and frustration and reconcile that with who we are as people of faith,” said Dellagiacoma, who also admitted to owning a gun. “I think we have more to share than we really disagree. I own a gun. But how do we hold those pieces of ourselves (and) the lives it costs us to value that above all else? »

Some of the interfaith group spoke of NRA membership as akin to sin.

“I would say if you wake up every morning claiming to be a Christian and you’re a member of this organization, you need to repent,” said Jerry Maynard, a faith activist who calls himself “the people’s priest.” “You can’t create peace with a gun.”

On Wednesday, the day after the Uvalde shooting, the NRA released a statement condemning the violence, which was committed by an 18-year-old sniper, and urged greater efforts to make schools safer.

But interfaith leaders outside the conference encouraged anyone within earshot to identify with their cause and call on elected officials to pass gun reform.

“Our hope is that the public outcry will generate legislation that will require universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons,” Dosher Hansen said. “We also hope that participants in this protest and others who have not been engaged with this issue before will go home and have real conversations about gun violence (and) our complicity in gun culture. .”

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